Nato meets to forge new ties

A day after the US and Russia agreed to a landmark cut in nuclear warheads, Nato foreign ministers met to seal an accord with Moscow to bury Cold War enmity and formalise new cooperation, notably against terrorism.

The ministers will also pave the way for a new wave of Nato enlargement into central and eastern Europe—former Warsaw Pact territory, expansion once feared by Moscow but now apparently engineered with its blessing.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was due to meet later in the day with the 19 ministers from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to finalize the Nato-Russia Council accord, to be signed at a Nato-Russia Summit in Rome on May 28.

The accord aims to formalise a new rapprochement between the former foes, notably in fighting terrorism in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

“The countries that spent four decades glowering at each other across a wall of hatred and fear now have the opportunity to transform future Euro-Atlantic security for the better,” Nato Secretary-General George Robertson told the opening session.

“The terrorist attacks on the United States were…a wake-up call,” he said. “Security threats can no longer be measured in fleets of warships, tanks or warplanes.

“Deadly attacks, are no longer launched by governments,” he said, “And they can strike without warning…Normal concepts of security have been shattered, traditional ways of doing business no longer work.”

Ivanov, before departing Moscow, said the new relationship with Nato should be “executive and not consultative,” allowing joint decisions in a dozen different areas, the Interfax-AVN agency reported.

Robertson, commenting on enlargement, said it was “too early” here to discuss which of the candidate countries would be asked to join Nato in the second wave of enlargement.

“Today’s meeting is a key stepping stone to Prague,” he said, referring to the venue of the Nato summit next November where the actual invitations will be handed out.

Nine countries—Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Romania—have applied, with the three Baltic states plus Slovenia seen to be in the lead.

Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined Nato in March 1999.

“In the wake of September 11, it is more important than ever that the Euro-Atlantic family of nations moves closer together,” said Robertson.”

“Enlargement strengthens our alliance.”

US Secretary of State Colin Powell, said a US official, will drive home the point to the front-running candidates that they have done “good work, but you’ve got more to do.”

The two-day meeting on this rocky, windswept island nation in the North Atlantic is symbolic in a number of ways. Iceland, although lacking an army, was a founding member of the alliance and has for more than half a century been a critical strategic outpost and an important base for US forces.

It was also the venue, in October 1986—six months after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster—of an historic meeting of then presidents Ronald Reagan of the United States and Mikhail Gorbachev of Russia.

Although failing in its intent to end the nuclear arms race, that meeting is seen in retrospect as the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

In announcing the US-Russia arms reduction pact that he and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will sign in Moscow next week, President George Bush said on Monday it would “liquidate the legacy of the Cold War” and put it “behind us once and for all.”

The deal was hailed by the US press.
It gives Bush the flexibility he sought to modify the US arsenal and explore new strategic defences while preserving and renewing “a vital arms-control relationship,” said The Washington Post.

But most important, said the paper, is its “mere existence,” a 10-year time frame that “will outlast the relationship between the two presidents” and assure key states such as China about the size and shape of the US nuclear arsenal, limiting chances of another arms race. ? Sapa-AFP

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